First published in Blogwatch
As the Aquino administration busies itself with its defense over the Aug. 23 hostage crisis, the livelihood of thousands of Philippine Airlines (PAL) employees remain on the line. Sooner or later, the flag carrier’s labor woes, which the President diagnosed inaccurately, will develop into another emergency.
On Thursday, the 1,600-strong Flight Attendants and Stewardesses of the Philippines (FASAP) filed a notice of strike at the labor department as the company still refuses to grant their demands.
FASAP president Bob Anduiza said they are demanding an increase in their salaries, paid maternity leave and the scrapping of the mandatory retirement age at 40 for female flight attendants, which he said is rooted in the mentality that a plane’s crew is mere eye-candy rather than trained safety professionals.
Accounts which I received first-hand from flight attendants confirm PAL’s gender discrimination and its unfair labor practices. According to them, female applicants should not be older than 27 years old. “Overweight” flight attendants are suspended without pay until they gain the ideal weight as determined by the company. When a crew gets pregnant, the company imposes a forced leave without pay that can last up to two years (since it is required for the crew to regain her pre-pregnancy weight ). The entire duration of the maternity leave is also not included in the computation of benefits.
Indeed, the same exploitation of women which characterize prostitution dens happen 36,000 feet above the ground.
Another less-discussed dimension of the plight of PAL flight attendants is the union’s assertion of labor rights. Since 2007, the company has refused to enter into collective bargaining negotiations with the union, thus denying crew members of better wages and working conditions. Some of them currently receive salaries that are below the minimum wage, a stark contrast to their glamorized portrayal in teleseryes and films.
Cabin crew members are also overworked due to the reduction of flight attendants per flight. For instance, PAL has reduced the number of crews from 18 to 12 for international flights to mitigate alleged losses.
The company has offered an P80-million package as consolation for the three-year suspension of CBA talks. The package is quite a chunk of money, but when divided among 1,600 crew members and 54 months (the duration of a CBA), each crew will only receive a raise of only P926 per month (very low in terms of the industry’s standard). This scheme is no different from the package which Hacienda Luisita Inc. forced into the throat of some 3,000 supposed farmer beneficiaries.
The package also pales in comparison with PAL’s combined passenger revenues worth P165.14 billion from 2006 to 2008 alone (based on the company’s financial statement). This is aside from the fact that PAL’s owner and CEO Lucio Tan has a fortune worth P78 billion (US$1.7 billion) according to Forbes Magazine.
A reliable source said the package is being offered with a precondition: the spin-off and outsourcing of PAL’s airport services, inflight and catering units must push through first before the company grants the package. In other words, Lucio Tan is goading FASAP to support the planned spin-off and outsourcing which will lay off at least 2,600 ground employees – a tactic meant to sow disunity among PAL’s workforce. But FASAP has so far stood its ground, opting to launch a strike instead of falling into Lucio Tan’s trap.
Concerns on tourism and convenience of the riding public appears to be the rhetoric of the times against the planned move of FASAP. President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino even put forward the silly proposal to implement an “open skies”policy to supposedly address the labor situation.
But what about the labor and gender rights of PAL flight attendants? After all, isn’t a significant portion of passengers boarding PAL (around 3,000 everday) are Filipino migrant workers who are also victims of the dismal job situation in the country? It is simply unjust to pit the passenger with the flight attendant to absolve Lucio Tan of his grave labor rights violations.
Those who subscribe to the government’s idea of protecting tourism first before PAL employees should reflect on the argument: Why is it that the government always worry losses in revenues and investments from tourism? Such reasoning exposes the basic weakness of the Philippine economy, being solely reliant on tourism as well as on remittances. It gives a glimpse of how we as a nation fail to take off due to the primacy of foreign capital and investments over our own workers and economy.
Aquino’s “open skies policy” will actually not solve the labor problems in PAL. The measure will actually stoke a bigger unrest since inviting foreign airlines to take up the slot of PAL will lead to a more massive retrenchment of employees. Essentially, Aquino is hostaging PAL employees using the “open skies” threat to keep their mouth shut and drop their strike plan.
On the contrary, he is letting Lucio Tan run scot-free from his obligations to employees with his billion-dollar fortune intact. After all, the taipan has nothing to worry over the government’s threat since he can outsource PAL’s “non-core units” to his wives and children.
The President himself has said it quite pointedly during the press conference hours after the hostage-taking incident: Why employ the final option as the first option? Now I am throwing back the question to you, Mr. President. Why not listen first to PAL employees’ demands?
It appears, though, that Aquino is bent on playing the role of hostage-taker instead of negotiator over the labor dispute.